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Leading with Gratitude

I love Thanksgiving! Not simply for the holiday itself, but for everything that comes with it. The changing colors in the trees. Cool air. Days off from work. The chance to spend extended time with family. Turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and my mom’s homemade bread. The list could go on and on.

As I reflect on all these things, gratitude bubbles up within me. Indeed, Thanksgiving is good both for what the time does within me and to what it calls me. Everything surrounding the holiday evokes gratitude, but I need reminders to choose gratitude.

Recently, I have also been reminded of how important gratitude is for leadership. I am driven. I expect commitment from my coworkers. I am always looking for ways to improve. But this approach, this pursuit of perfection, often gives me a hard edge. Thankfully, gratitude has the capacity to soften that edge and provide new perspective.

How does this happen?

Gratitude can change our perspective by shifting our focus from what is wrong to what is right. If we are not careful, the pursuit of perfection can cause us to focus only on the things that need to be improved. But when we focus on gratitude, we begin to look at what is right. We see what has already been accomplished. We see the positive in the people around us and in our environment. We begin to appreciate what is good and life-giving in the work before us. This perspective takes us from despair to hope and from poverty to fullness.

Yes, there are times when we need to hunker down. The pressure is great and the results matter, so we tighten our grip and increase our focus. And this works for a time. But if we do it for too long, or the outlook darkens, our focus on what is wrong can weigh us down. It becomes an albatross. Conversely, gratitude has the potential to usher hope into dark places. It offers warmth and loosens what has gotten too tight.

Gratitude may also change our perspective by shifting our focus outward.

As a leader, I am tempted to set my eyes solely on what I have to do. This myopic focus turns my attention to what I am accountable for, what I need to get done, and how it needs to be done. I expect everyone—my reports, my peers, and, sometimes, even my customers—to fall behind those concerns

Gratitude helps me turn my attention beyond myself. I take note of the people on my team and the good they draw out of me and each other. I see the strengths of my coworkers. I begin to see that our work matters to our customers and appreciate the value of our team’s work in new ways. This outward perspective changes me and how I work.

Ultimately, gratitude has the potential to change how I lead.

Written by Dr. Drake Levasheff

Drake Levasheff, PhD, Senior Director, Murrieta Regional Campus Azusa Pacific University.

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